Arts Q&A: Ardal O'Hanlon on James Joyce, Mike Leigh, Samuel Beckett and unicorns

Jenny Lee puts performers and artists on the spot about what really matters to them. This week, comedian and actor Ardal O'Hanlon

Ardal O'Hanlon will be In Conversation at Seamus Heaney HomePlace, Bellaghy, on Thursday November 23

1. When did you think about a career in acting/comedy and what were your first steps into it?

When I left college (Dublin City University) in 1987, I was at a bit of a loose end with not a clue what I wanted to do with my life. I always thought I'd like to be a writer. With nothing substantial to write about, I started toying with little sketches about the minutiae of life and drifted into stand-up. Myself and some friends started a comedy club in Dublin's International Bar where we had a great time finding our comedy voices while our friends emigrated.


2. Best gigs you’ve been to?

Just this month in Dublin I saw jazz guitar legend Pat Metheny and friends at the National Concert Hall. The intensity and virtuosity on display was mind-blowing. I also loved Neil Young at the 3Arena a few years ago indulging us all with some career highlights. But for sheer enjoyment nothing tops boogie woogie piano man Dr John at the Tudor Rooms in the mid-80s.


3. Fantasy wedding/birthday party band?

I'd love to have Frank Black (Pixies) and Debbie Harry on vocals, Jean-Jacques Burnel (The Stranglers) on bass, Slash (Guns'n'Roses) on guitar and John Bonham on drums. It would be loud, if nothing else.


4. The record you’d take to a desert island?

Cowgirl in the Sand by Neil Young. It's got everything – monster guitar solos, great vocals, melody, and lots of dramatic gear changes.


5. And the book?

I used to do a joke about the books I'd bring with me to a desert island – a big plastic inflatable book on How to Make Oars out of Sand. But if push came to shove I'd probably pick Ulysses by James Joyce. There'd be no excuse for not finishing it.


6. Top three films?

Fargo by Coen Brothers, The Deer Hunter by Michael Cimino, and Apocalypse Now by Coppola.


7. Worst film you’ve seen and why?

I'm a big fan of Mike Leigh but I remember hating Happy Go Lucky.

8. Favourite authors?

My current favourites are Samuel Beckett, George Saunders and Graham Greene.


9. Sport you most enjoy and top team?

Football (Leeds United), rugby (Ireland), and basketball (Chicago Bulls). I've also become a tennis bore with an unhealthy infatuation with Roger Federer.


10. Ideal holiday destination?

I love most European cities but have had great adventures in places like China and Colombia.


11. Pet Hate? Too numerous to mention (I'm trying to be positive).


12. What is your favourite:

Dinner? Roast beef with all the trimmings and lots of horse radish.

Dessert? Lemon meringue pie

Drink? Red wine – a good Bordeaux preferably.


13. Who is your best friend and how do you know each other?

My wife Melanie. She's a warm, funny, kind person but she's also incredibly supportive and dependable.


14. Is there a God?

Yes there is a god (and yes God is a delusion). God absolutely exists but only in the imagination. Some of our best ideas exist only in the mind – democracy, for example and of course unicorns. I hope I cleared that up once and for all.


:: Ardal O'Hanlon will be In Conversation at Seamus Heaney HomePlace ( on Thursday November 23. The event is sold out.

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